The bitter disappointment of missing out on a first Championship title for Somerset will take a while longer to ease for the county’s players, who went so close to making history with their stirring late-season charge. But they are still able to take pride in their efforts – and to look forward to a bright future for the club.
For Jack Leach, the 25-year-old left-arm spinner who took an astonishing 65 wickets in his first full season, that involves a new three-year contract – announced by Somerset at the same time as an extended deal for Dom Bess, the teenage off-spinner with whom he formed such an effective combination in the last couple of games at Taunton.
And both of them will also be heading abroad on the International Pathway in the coming weeks – Bess on an Overseas Placement to Adelaide, building on the progress he made at the Darren Lehmann Academy last winter, and Leach with the Lions to Dubai.
“It’s been a very weird few days,” reflected Leach, a local Taunton lad who has also been moving house for good measure – and who met up with the rest of the Lions squad for the first time at the National Cricket Performance Centre in Loughborough this week.
“On Thursday we got a brilliant three-day result after playing some really good cricket to beat Nottinghamshire and give ourselves a chance.
“That meant we had to watch the end of the Middlesex-Yorkshire game on Friday which wasn’t easy – you feel very helpless in that situation. To start with it looked like they were batting normally and it might be a draw, but then the inevitable happened, and yeah it was tough to watch, and not the result we were hoping for.
“But Middlesex had a great season so fair play to them, they deserved to win the title. We’ve got to be very proud of what we’ve achieved – if you’d said at the start of the season we’d finish second, I think most people in Somerset would have been happy with that.”
Leach expected Toby Roland-Jones and Nick Gubbins, the Leeds University graduates whose contribution to Middlesex’s success was recognised by selection in the Lions squad, to be nursing sore heads when the squad gathered in Loughborough.
“It’s exciting,” he said of his own selection. “It will be a great opportunity for me to keep learning and developing my game, and to work with new coaches and players. It’s the first step on the ladder I guess, to the England side of things – and I’ve not kept it a secret that I’d like to play international cricket.
“I targeted this year as one where I’d like to get my name out there and put in some good performances for Somerset. The last few years we have had overseas spinners so it’s been tough to get a go, but this year I got in the team early and it’s gone better than I could ever have hoped for.”
Leach had benefited from an Overseas Placement himself last winter, although his stint in Perth was cut short by a back injury. He will be joined in Dubai this autumn by Craig Overton, who has been selected for the Lions for the third consecutive winter – and will be desperate to avoid a repeat of last year’s frustration when he injured his elbow in an early fielding practice.
His twin brother Jamie will be spending the bulk of the winter in Taunton building back to fitness after missing the second half of the summer with a back injury, and with Bess, Tom Abell, Ryan Davies and Lewis Gregory also fitting firmly into the category of players with their best years ahead of them, there is plenty of substance to suggestions that a Championship win this season may have come slightly ahead of schedule – and that Somerset are well-placed to go one better next year, when they will have to replace Chris Rogers but have already signed Steven Davies from Surrey, and will still retain plenty of experience in Peter Trego, James Hildreth and of course Marcus Trescothick.
"Middlesex had a great season so fair play to them, they deserved to win the title."
“I’ve grown up in Taunton and watched the team from a young age, so to be able to play for them is a dream come true,” said Leach. “I would love to be in the team that wins our first Championship at some stage – it would mean so much to Somerset. We’re still a team with not a lot of experience really, with a lot of young local guys who have come through the Academy – Dom Bess is a great example of that, he’s had an amazing start and made it look very easy so far. I’ve really enjoyed bowling with him - we work closely together.
“The more we play together as a team the stronger we’re going to get - but we all want to do it when Tres is still around playing. It was pretty gutting for him the way things happened last week – we want to win it for him, and the other guys who have been playing a while. We’ll get there.”